The Brooklyn Bridge in Stereo

The Brooklyn Bridge was an engineering marvel that changed New York. On completion in 1883, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world, the first steel-wire suspension bridge, and the first bridge to connect to Long Island. The bridge was lucky enough to be built when stereoview cards were popular, and so today is a frequently appearing image on these cards.

Stereoview cards contain a set of photographs taken by a camera with two lenses. The images are about 2.5 ” apart, which is approximately the distance between our eyes. When viewed in the prismatic lens of a stereoviewer, the brain perceives them as a single image in 3-D.

Stereoview cards are quite collectible today. They are relatively easy to find if you know where to look and show landmarks, genre scenes and important events. While not many of us alive today can remember when stereoviews were popular, many of us can remember the ViewMaster, which works on the same principle. (a nice bakelite viewmaster is a great thing to have too!)

Three images of the Brooklyn Bridge include one by the Keystone View Company from Meadville, Pa; one from William H. Rau in Philadelphia and one from Underwood & Underwood from New York. In 1920, the company sold most of its catalog of views to the Keystone View Company.

While for the most part stereoviews are associated with the Victorian-era, the Keystone View Company and a subsequent company manufactured the cards into the 1970s. If you search for the cards on ebay, you may find some pornographic images which found their way onto the cards in the 1950s.

It’s difficult to determine the actual photographer of many of the images. Of particular interest is the work of William H. Rau, a noted landscape photographer who was at one point on assignment for the Pennsylvania Railroad. His work is in the collections of several American Museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Rau also photographed the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon. I am not sure how many of the images on cards with a Rau label were actually taken by him.

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George Washington Harris was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1814. In 1819 he moved to Knoxville, Tennessee with his older half-brother, Samuel Bell. He spent the majority of his life in this young, frontier community of eastern Tennessee -- soaking in the life of the frontier. By the age of twelve, Harris was working as an apprentice in Samuel Bell's metalworking shop. He married Mary Emiline Nance in 1835 and within a few years purchased acreage in Blout County, in Tucaleeche Cove at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains.

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